Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Perspective: On This Day In Iraq -- August 7th edition

August 7, 2006: Soldiers from the 6th Infantry raid a house in Tameem in search of suspects linked to shooting at American forces the day before.

August 7, 2002:

Cheney remarks dampen hopes of Iraq solution

Dick Cheney, US vice-president, on Wednesday said that sending back United Nations weapons inspectors to Iraq would not be enough to counter the threat posed by Saddam Hussein, its president.

The comments put in doubt Washington's commitment to not undermine attempts to find a diplomatic solution to the impasse with Iraq, and are likely to frustrate even the US's closest international allies.

"Many of us, I think, are sceptical that simply returning the inspectors will solve the problem," said Mr Cheney, becoming the highest-ranking US official to come out so strongly against UN weapons inspectors. He added: "A debate with [Mr Hussein] over inspectors simply, I think, would be an effort by him to obfuscate, delay and avoid having to live up to the accords that he signed up to at the end of the Gulf war."

Nearly every other member of the UN, including the UK, Washington's closest ally, is counting on a diplomatic breakthrough that would allow inspectors back into Iraq and avert war with the US. Washington has long taken a lukewarm attitude towards the diplomatic approach of Kofi Annan, UN secretary-general, but US officials have so far been careful not to undermine his efforts.

Mr Cheney's comments come on the heels of the UN's decision this week to decline Iraq's invitation to continue negotiations in Baghdad with Hans Blix, chief UN weapons inspector. Russia in particular had hoped Mr Annan would accept the invitation, but the US and UK made clear the UN must not reopen negotiations on Mr Hussein's terms.

Baghdad has blocked UN weapons inspectors from returning to the country since 1998, when the teams evacuated ahead of a US-led military strike against Iraq.

Read the rest at Financial Times

August 7, 2003:

A Look at US Daily Casualties in Iraq

As of Tuesday, Aug. 5, 251 US soldiers have died since the beginning of military operations in Iraq, according to the military.

The British government has reported 43 deaths.

On or since May 1, when President Bush declared that major combat operations in Iraq had ended, 113 US soldiers have died in Iraq, according to the latest military figures.

The military had previously reported 114 killed since May 1, according to Pentagon spokeswoman Lt. Col. Cynthia Colin.

The latest deaths reported by US Central Command:

A soldier assigned to Coalition Forces Land Component Command died Wednesday from an apparent heart attack.
A soldier from the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) was killed when he fell from a roof Tuesday in Mosul, Iraq.

Read the rest at China Daily News

Only a few months to turn Iraq around, former Defense official says

On July 17, a team of experts led by John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies and a former deputy Defense secretary during the Clinton administration, issued the first independent assessment - based on recent field reporting in Iraq - of the reconstruction effort. The findings were sobering. The enormity of the task of rebuilding Iraq cannot be overstated, the report concluded, and the potential for chaos is growing every day. Most important, the report warns that unless a very volatile security situation is turned around in the next few crucial months, the window for cooperation from the Iraqi people is likely to close. National Journal Staff Correspondent James Kitfield interviewed Hamre on July 28 about the report. Here are edited excerpts.

NJ: Before we get into the specific findings and recommendations of your report, can you share your general impressions of the situation in Iraq?

Hamre: My first impression was of the enormous, almost infectious energy of the Coalition Provisional Authority led by Ambassador [L. Paul] Bremer. Everyone knows they are working on a very important and historic project. So there is an idealism that infuses the work of the CPA staff, which is determined to help the Iraqi people who have suffered so much over the past 35 years.

Having said that, I also got the impression that the authority operates in a kind of bubble. The palace complex they occupy is in a section of Baghdad guarded by more than two battalions of U.S. troops. Inside the offices, there's a beehive of activity, but it takes place in a sort of ghost town. Outside of that bubble, you see much less American presence, and more liveliness and messiness. So even though the Americans are a big presence in Iraq, I got the impression that the authority is somewhat isolated from much that goes on in the country.

NJ: Any other general impressions?

Hamre: My primary impression is that the reconstruction of Iraq presents a much more complicated challenge than people realize. In many ways, it combines the difficulties of rebuilding Germany in 1946 and the challenges presented by the dissolution of the former Soviet Union in 1989. As in the case of Germany, you have a country emerging from a brutal dictatorship, and the thugs are still living among the populace. Remember, the Iraqi army and security forces largely dissolved rather than fight, and some of the bad guys see a guerrilla campaign as a way to continue the war by other means. So you have a conquered country, but not really a defeated country.

Related to the security problems is the fact that, much like with the former Soviet Union, you have a completely failed economy. The interaction of those two key elements - a volatile security situation and a failed economy - is really the main problem facing Iraq. We're struggling to get the economy up and running again, for instance, even while the bad guys try to wreak havoc on a fragile infrastructure as a way to humiliate us.

NJ: Can you describe in more detail that dual challenge of security and economic revival?

Hamre: We had expected to confront a difficult security environment, but it is even more complex than is generally acknowledged in Washington. In Washington, the primary focus is understandably on the Saddam loyalists who are attacking our troops, but in truth, that is only one part of the security problem. In fact, there are two other big elements to the security problem. You have the general criminality on Iraqi streets. Saddam let all the criminals out of the prisons, and now Iraqi women do not even feel safe going out on their own.

A third and underestimated factor are these big, mafia-style gangs that were created to supply the black market under the U.N.-mandated Oil-for-Food program. They are, quite simply, plundering the country. In many ways, these criminal gangs may be the biggest long-term security problem, but because they are not shooting at U.S. troops at this point, they tend not to show up on our radar. Every day we don't do something about these gangs, however, the deeper the hole we will have dug, and the harder it will be to get out of it.

NJ: Do you feel that the Coalition Provisional Authority has a strategy to confront those interlinked security challenges?

Hamre: In fairness, I think they are trying to move on all fronts, but I worry that we have a pretty narrow window for turning the overall security picture around. The authority did announce it was moving aggressively to train Iraqis to take on "site security" to free up U.S. troops for other missions. That's very important. You can't solve this problem unless Iraqis are willing to defend their own country, and we need a much larger Iraqi police presence to address this petty criminality. The authority is also recruiting paramilitary-type police forces from some of our European friends. Far and away the best contribution we could get from our European allies would be in this area of quasi-military police forces, which about half of the countries in Europe have.

NJ: Why did your report conclude that the window for turning around the security situation in Iraq could close in as little as three months?

Hamre: Because the way we've used our troops has tended to create inconveniences for the average Iraqi, without providing additional security. An Iraqi may have to go through multiple checkpoints on his way home, for instance, but once there, he is still afraid to let his daughter go outside. The authority said it has recruited 32,000 Iraqis to become police, but I must confess that I didn't see many of them on the street. So my point is that the status quo can only go on for so long.

Because we are so focused on the Saddam loyalists who are shooting at our troops, it is also not clear to me that we have a clear or workable plan to stop the sabotage of the infrastructure that is going on. Yet as I told Pentagon officials, that sabotage directly impacts on the iron triangle of problems confronting Iraq: security, electricity, and oil.

NJ: How are those three connected?

Hamre: If we cannot secure the electric distribution system, the bad guys will keep humiliating the authority and any Iraqi government that we try to help stand up. Without reliable electricity, you can't pump oil and start using the revenues to rebuild the economy. Without electricity, you can't pump water for drinking and washing.

It will probably take a couple of years to get major new power-generation facilities in place. That's why I think there is a pressing need for an emergency power-generation program to fill the gap. Bremer is already looking at the possible need for emergency appropriations to buy or lease portable power generators from countries that have them, just to get water-pumping stations back on line.

NJ: Why does your report say that the United States needs to "quickly mobilize a new reconstruction coalition that is significantly broader than the coalition that successfully waged the war"?

Hamre: We're not going to be able to get the next increment of foreign support until there is a somewhat different framework for governing Iraq. If you talk to officials from other nations, there's this sense that we need another step at the United Nations to bestow legitimacy on the effort. This new framework, in turn, will help us tap into the financial resources of the international community in terms of developmental assistance.

Personally, I think the main elements of such a framework are already in place, and I would argue that it should focus on the United Nations' bestowing greater legitimacy on the Iraqi Governing Council. Regardless of what the eventual framework is, however, some new U.N. mandate will be necessary, because right now too many nations are just sitting on their hands.

NJ: As a former top Pentagon official, how concerned are you about the morale and conditions of U.S. troops in Iraq?

Hamre: I'm worried about our troops, because in Iraq I saw a strain and tension in our military that I haven't seen in a while. Now, this popular characterization that they are nearly mutinous is just wrong. These are very disciplined troops, and their depth of professionalism is such that I don't worry about that at all. But they are really tired. It's a miserable, hot existence, and they live in an environment of constant tension.

My advice to the Pentagon would be to focus on implementing a very aggressive rest-and-relaxation program so that our troops could get away and relax every month or so. We probably also need to reconfigure our force, and swap out a lot of the heavy armored forces for lighter and less-maintenance-intensive infantry units. The problem is that we have very little wiggle room left in our force structure for swapping out or rotating units to Iraq, especially with concerns about North Korea growing. Thus a long-term occupation of Iraq under present conditions would be very damaging to our military.

At the same time, we can't slight this effort in the short term, or we will just have to stay longer. That's why our report concludes that we need to shock the present system and introduce a new security posture that includes more troops from our European allies and an enormous investment in getting Iraqi police and security forces in place.

Read the rest at Government Executive Magazine

August 7, 2004:

European Press Review: A Question of Law

European editorials on Thursday discussed the emergency laws passed by the new interim Iraqi government...

According to the official line, the emergency laws are designed to secure public safety wrote Switzerland's Tages Anzeiger. "But in reality", the paper suggested; "they are a well known method of gagging the opposition and preventing a civil society from emerging and they create the ideal conditions in which to cement an authoritarian regime." "Exactly the opposite is expected from the new interim government in Baghdad which will now have to work hard to prove that it needs these laws and is only using them to reign in the chaos in the country," the paper wrote.

Democracy in Iraq is a strange thing, according to Germany's Sueddetusche Zeitung. "Firstly it was supposed to be brought to the Iraqi people through the US invasion," the paper observed. "Then it was to have begun with the end of the official occupation of the U.S.-led coalition forces and the hand over of sovereignty to the Iraqis." Now the new government has brought attention to itself with two new laws, the introduction of the death penalty and the state of emergency, the paper wrote. "This is not an ideal beginning for a fledgling democracy," the paper lamented, "but how else is this to come about in a situation that a country like Iraq is in?"

The British daily Guardian noted that on the day the law was announced, a running gun battle broke out in the city centre of Baghdad, killing four and injuring 20, making it difficult to convince ordinary Iraqi's that their government does not need draconian laws or indeed that the death penalty should not be reapplied. But the paper also pointed out that the interim Prime Minister Iyad Allawi "is not working with a clean sheet," as the paper stated. "This is still an Iraq where 8000 people are detained and disappear into a legal hole". And there are major ambiguities about the relationship between coalition commanders and the Iraqi executive, wrote the daily.

Read the rest at the Deutsche Welle

August 7, 2005:

Unit had asked for more Marines

A Marine regiment that took heavy casualties last week in western Iraq — including 19 killed from a Reserve unit headquartered in Ohio — had repeatedly asked for about 1,000 more troops. Those requests were not granted.

Regimental Combat Team 2 began asking for additional troops to police its volatile 24,000-square-mile territory before most of its Marines deployed in February, said operations officer Lt. Col. Christopher Starling, 39, of Jacksonville, N.C.

Starling said the unit could "optimally" use one more battalion, about 1,000 troops, to take some of the pressure off the Reserve unit, which is spearheading an offensive in the region. "With a fourth battalion, I wouldn't have to play pick-up ball," Starling said.

The requests for additional forces were passed to higher headquarters in nearby Ramadi; it is unclear whether they went beyond that level, Starling said.

The casualties in the area don't "appear to be related to the troop level situation," said Air Force Brig. Gen. Donald Alston, a U.S. military spokesman. He said he wasn't aware of the requests for additional forces.

But the issue highlights whether there are enough U.S. and Iraqi troops to battle a deeply rooted insurgency.

Thomas Hammes, a retired Marine colonel who has written a book on anti-insurgency tactics, said ground commanders have been saying that they don't have enough troops to cover the country, despite the Pentagon's insistence that they do.

Pentagon spokesman Larry DiRita said Sunday, "I don't doubt every colonel wishes he had more in his area, but the decisions about how troops are (deployed) are made by the commanders above them."

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has said that he would authorize an increase in the number of troops in Iraq if top commanders asked for them. The Pentagon says that so far they haven't.

Read the rest at USA Today

August 7, 2006:

Half of U.S. Still Believes Iraq Had WMD

Do you believe in Iraqi "WMD"? Did Saddam Hussein's government have weapons of mass destruction in 2003?

Half of America apparently still thinks so, a new poll finds, and experts see a raft of reasons why: a drumbeat of voices from talk radio to die-hard bloggers to the Oval Office, a surprise headline here or there, a rallying around a partisan flag, and a growing need for people, in their own minds, to justify the war in Iraq.

People tend to become "independent of reality" in these circumstances, says opinion analyst Steven Kull.

The reality in this case is that after a 16-month, $900-million-plus investigation, the U.S. weapons hunters known as the Iraq Survey Group declared that Iraq had dismantled its chemical, biological and nuclear arms programs in 1991 under U.N. oversight. That finding in 2004 reaffirmed the work of U.N. inspectors who in 2002-03 found no trace of banned arsenals in Iraq.

Despite this, a Harris Poll released July 21 found that a full 50 percent of U.S. respondents _ up from 36 percent last year _ said they believe Iraq did have the forbidden arms when U.S. troops invaded in March 2003, an attack whose stated purpose was elimination of supposed WMD. Other polls also have found an enduring American faith in the WMD story.

"I'm flabbergasted," said Michael Massing, a media critic whose writings dissected the largely unquestioning U.S. news reporting on the Bush administration's shaky WMD claims in 2002-03.

"This finding just has to cause despair among those of us who hope for an informed public able to draw reasonable conclusions based on evidence," Massing said.

Timing may explain some of the poll result. Two weeks before the survey, two Republican lawmakers, Pennsylvania's Sen. Rick Santorum and Michigan's Rep. Peter Hoekstra, released an intelligence report in Washington saying 500 chemical munitions had been collected in Iraq since the 2003 invasion.

"I think the Harris Poll was measuring people's surprise at hearing this after being told for so long there were no WMD in the country," said Hoekstra spokesman Jamal Ware.

But the Pentagon and outside experts stressed that these abandoned shells, many found in ones and twos, were 15 years old or more, their chemical contents were degraded, and they were unusable as artillery ordnance. Since the 1990s, such "orphan" munitions, from among 160,000 made by Iraq and destroyed, have turned up on old battlefields and elsewhere in Iraq, ex-inspectors say. In other words, this was no surprise.

"These are not stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction," said Scott Ritter, the ex-Marine who was a U.N. inspector in the 1990s. "They weren't deliberately withheld from inspectors by the Iraqis."

Conservative commentator Deroy Murdock, who trumpeted Hoekstra's announcement in his syndicated column, complained in an interview that the press "didn't give the story the play it deserved." But in some quarters it was headlined.

"Our top story tonight, the nation abuzz today ..." was how Fox News led its report on the old, stray shells. Talk-radio hosts and their callers seized on it. Feedback to blogs grew intense. "Americans are waking up from a distorted reality," read one posting.

Other claims about supposed WMD had preceded this, especially speculation since 2003 that Iraq had secretly shipped WMD abroad. A former Iraqi general's book _ at best uncorroborated hearsay _ claimed "56 flights" by jetliners had borne such material to Syria.

But Kull, Massing and others see an influence on opinion that's more sustained than the odd headline.

"I think the Santorum-Hoekstra thing is the latest 'factoid,' but the basic dynamic is the insistent repetition by the Bush administration of the original argument," said John Prados, author of the 2004 book "Hoodwinked: The Documents That Reveal How Bush Sold Us a War."

Administration statements still describe Saddam's Iraq as a threat. Despite the official findings, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has allowed only that "perhaps" WMD weren't in Iraq. And Bush himself, since 2003, has repeatedly insisted on one plainly false point: that Saddam rebuffed the U.N. inspectors in 2002, that "he wouldn't let them in," as he said in 2003, and "he chose to deny inspectors," as he said this March.

The facts are that Iraq _ after a four-year hiatus in cooperating with inspections _ acceded to the U.N. Security Council's demand and allowed scores of experts to conduct more than 700 inspections of potential weapons sites from Nov. 27, 2002, to March 16, 2003. The inspectors said they could wrap up their work within months. Instead, the U.S. invasion aborted that work.

As recently as May 27, Bush told West Point graduates, "When the United Nations Security Council gave him one final chance to disclose and disarm, or face serious consequences, he refused to take that final opportunity."

"Which isn't true," observed Kathleen Hall Jamieson, a scholar of presidential rhetoric at the University of Pennsylvania. But "it doesn't surprise me when presidents reconstruct reality to make their policies defensible." This president may even have convinced himself it's true, she said.

Read the rest at the Washington Post